Organize Your Paperwork
Are you drowning in a sea of paper? Do you dread the task of sorting through it and yet fear just tossing it in case it contains something important? Paper—mail, magazines, news, reports, records, flyers—is one of the major causes of household clutter. Here are some simple, effective tips for taming paperwork problems.
Eliminate Future Sources of Paper Clutter
Tracy Miller of Prevention says the first step to clearing up paper clutter is to go on a paper diet with these three tricks:
- Don’t let it in the house. Sort your mail at the mailbox or entryway and toss the unwanted junk into a bin for recycling or shredding later.
- Eliminate sticky notes and memo pads. Instead, opt for an online electronic app, like Evernote, to store reminders and to-do lists.
- Say no to junk mail. Miller says a non-profit service called CatalogChoice.org will help you tell companies not to send mail to you.
- You can also eliminate paper pileups by opting for electronic bills, bank statements and email renewal notices and by using your mobile phone to snap photos of schedules and to-do lists.
Amy Panos, a senior editor at Better Homes and Gardens says kids are a huge source of paper clutter. “Train your kids to put all of their incoming paper in a central inbox. Then, go through it and edit it by throwing things you don’t need into the recycling bin,” says Panos, who suggests only saving the really special things. She also recommends that you have a bin for each child to make sure you don’t miss important info.
Sort the Stuff You Have
Okay, it’s time to tackle the dreaded paperwork piles. Ramona Creel of Smead, a company that specializes in organization products, says, “The best way to start organizing paper files is to pick a stack, any stack. We’re going to go through each piece of paper in order, and decide what to do with it.” As you deal with each piece of paper, Creel says to ask yourself four simple questions.
- Is the information still important?
- Is it outdated?
- Could you replace the information easily if you were to need it later?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen if you toss it?
About the time you get to the tenth piece of paper, you should be zipping through those questions and watching the stack shrink.
If those pieces of paper are worthless, outdated or easily replaced, your decision is simple: shred it if it contains sensitive information; toss it in the trash if it doesn’t.
If it’s worth keeping, put it into one of three folders.
- Action items. This folder contains paperwork that requires you to do something fairly soon, like pay a bill or renew a subscription.
- Items for filing. Here you keep papers such as health records, insurance policies and other important things. For backup records for taxes and other receipts that you have to keep for years, consider renting a climate-controlled self storage unit, where your paperwork will be safe and accessible, but won’t take up valuable space in your home or get moldy in a basement.
- Items to pass along to someone else. Magazines, for instance, can be given to a hospital or senior center.
Find a Filing System That Works for You
There are a zillion ways to file papers. The best one is the one that works for you, meaning that you’ll use it without fail. The folks at Dummies.com, specializing in simplifying the odious and the difficult, offer eight tips, including investing in a quality filing cabinet to safeguard important paperwork—such as insurance policies, deeds, receipts, warranties, wills, medical records and marriage certificates. Another option is to use a password-protected online safe deposit service such as MyVault for storing digitized versions of your vital records.
For more casual, family-friendly filing, Cozi.com, which provides free online organizer tools, has several helpful, easy suggestions, such as:
- Use a color-coded system, designating a separate color of file folders for each family member, or have simple files labeled “Today,” “This Week,” and “This Month.”
- Set aside one day a week or twice a month and designate it as Desk Day, the day you go through your files and do the triage system mentioned earlier in this article.
Organizing paperwork can be surprisingly easy and rewarding. Not only will you be able to find what you want when you need it, but also you’ll eliminate a significant source of stress in your life.
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